During our August trip to Ireland, we visited the townlands where my grandfather and grandmother grew up. Driving was quite an experience, but we managed to make it through the trip without an accident! I must admit I was nervous, as were my passengers.
Our first stop was Ballaghboy in County Sligo. There didn’t seem to be any center of Ballaghboy, but we found the nearby village of Ballinafad . With only one small main street, it was not difficult to find my grandmother’s church in the parish of Aughanagh. We walked a few doors down and inquired at the post office regarding my grandmother’s family – the Horans. The woman in the post office suggested we walk down the street and knock on a door where a man would know. We were a bit reluctant to do so, but we did and he was extremely helpful and directed us to the local cemetery.
We reached the cemetery and found a truck there labeled “Horan Brothers Monuments”. I asked the man working if he knew where the Horan’s might be buried and he said “I’m a Horan”! We determined that he was not part of my family but showed me to the grave of my grandmother’s brother and his family. We didn’t have enough current information or time to see if there were any relatives living in the area. Maybe next trip.
We then drove on to Ballinamore in County Leitrim. Ballinamore has about 1000 residents with a beautiful downtown area. My grandfather was from Gubnaveagh, a townland about 15 minutes drive into the hills outside Ballinamore. We stayed in a nice B&B – the Buille Toll. We planned to visit the gentleman whose family purchased the Sweeney property in the early 1960′s when my grandfather’s brother and wife passed away. At every turn we met friendly, helpful people. Whenever we asked someone about 30-45 years old about the Sweeneys, they said “let me call my dad, he’ll know”. That happened at least five times. It makes me think about all the oral history that will be lost when that generation dies. We arrived unannounced at 8pm at Sharon Sweeney’s home/Confectionery in town. She greeted us warmly and chatted for about 20 minutes before calling her father. He immediately drove over from the other side of town and spent another 20 minutes with us. It seems we are not related, but it was fun to chat with such friendly people. Lots of wonderful conversations with our B&B hosts as well – along with the now expected call to her father to ask about the Sweeneys because “he would know”. We also visited the Aughacashel Post Office where they said the person there knew everyone. I actually heard about him from a genealogy Internet forum. It was true, he gave me a few more bits of family information.
We visited St. Marys at Aughnasheelin in the parish of Oughteragh. This is the church where my grandfather’s parents were married. After covering the cemetery multiple times would could not find a Sweeney grave marker. Perhaps with no Sweeneys left in the area for over 40 years, it was overgrown. I have birth and marriage information about 3 generations of Sweeneys in the area and yet couldn’t find any death/burial records. Is it possible they were buried on their property?
We managed to get directions to the former Sweeney property. We made this connection through my cousin, Jim Murphy, and a cousin of the family that bought the property. At some point, they made the connection when Jim mentioned his mother’s maiden name was Sweeney. As it turns out, our families were all from the same area in Leitrim and had settled in Providence. Another “small world” connection. I was really looking forward to meeting the owner and hearing about the Sweeneys and the property. Needless to say, there was no address or street signs and we got lost. We took the “if you get lost” advice of our B&B hosts and knocked on a random front door. The woman there didn’t know of the house we were looking for but she said “my father lives next door and he knows everyone”. We went next door and sure enough he did. It was raining, but he hopped in his car and led us to our destination. Talk about making us feel welcome.
We had a great visit with the current owner whose family purchased the adjacent property from a family that purchased the Sweeney property. We learned more about the Sweeneys and life in the area. What a friendly man. After a generous glass of whiskey in his kitchen, we were on our way back to Dublin.
Visiting these small towns in Ireland was the highlight of our trip. It was so much fun talking to the local people and finding out what I could about the Sweeneys. I’m doing more research and hope to visit again. My one regret is letting the bad weather stop us from walking out to see the remains of the cottage where my grandfather grew up. It’s still there and I guess that means I have to go back!
(Note: I was reluctant to use names without permission with the exception of my cousin and Sharon Sweeney who has a web site.)